The Comfort of Water

This Monday starts the beginning of a short work week for most of us, but not so short that we can forego the comfort of the Poem of the Week. Here it is, transporting us to the Algarve, and another chance to take you far away from the humdrum of your daily schedule. Be well, stay safe!

the comfort of water

in Portugal, near Sagres,

the earth pokes a naked finger

of stone into the Atlantic,

a natural pier two hundred feet

above the gnashing surf.

patient fishermen drop their lines

two hundred feet into the surging water

and wait for dinner to make its fatal error.

I am told a few fisherman disappear yearly.

I scramble across moonscape rock

to the end of the land.

far below, the sea strains

against the stone walls

like a besieging army.

my passport and papers are in my pocket.

no one knows my name for five hundred miles.

the sea spreads arms of spray, beseeching.

the salt breath whispers –

come to me,

I am also patient and hungry.

p. ferenczi

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Need a Smile?

If you are like me, you’re likely tired by now of the profusion of bad news flooding our lives, ranging from tragic to infuriating, from sad to incomprehensible. Here then, is a moment to stop, relax, and hopefully, move on with a smile. Be well!

Bought vs Homemade

Six year old Annie returns home from school and says she had herfirst family planning lesson at school.Her mother, very interested, asks; “How did it go?””I nearly died of shame!” she answers.”Sam from over the road, says that the stork brings babies.Sally next door said you can buy babies at the orphanage.Pete in my class says you can buy babies at the hospital.”Her mother answers laughingly, “But that’s no reason to be ashamed.”

“No, but I can’t tell them that we were so poor that you and daddy had to make me yourselves!”

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What You Need

It’s Poetry Monday, so let us continue with our recent theme of travel. In these times of dystopia, it’s good to at least dream of future possibilities.

what you need

nothing except warm clothes,

a way to get around – that could be feet-

a brain and an eye and an ear that work.

food important for burning in the body furnace

but food is cheap easy compared to drink-

drink costs cash and time so learn to burn without.

tap is fine – toilets cheaper than bottles.

sleep is key for refraction reflection,

happens alongside moments borrowed in chairs

moments gifted in beds of others preoccupied or not.

something sharp for cutting poking hopefully not stabbing.

soap tempting but leads to showers – a dead end fungus.

for brain faults backup recording-

bound paper and nub to write with-

blood is ink but let’s be serious.

cameras are for thieves and blinding-

Kodak if you must

but then leave extra looking space.

a lack of company

surplus time and youth helpful-

two of three will do but why not go whole hog

and youth is not years remember.


the desire.

p. ferenczi

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Bridging the Divide

As a physician, as someone who has been trained in and believes in science, I share the frustrations of all my colleagues who are faced with members of the public choosing not to wear masks and denying the realities of a pandemic which has already killed almost a quarter million of Americans alone, devastated countries and economies throughout the world, and which is once again surging to create even more misery and suffering for its victims.

Masks have become a flashpoint in our culture wars: either as a commitment to public health or an infringement of basic liberties, the mask encapsulates the politicization of science. Until we have an effective therapy available to all (and as of today, 20-40% of people surveyed claim they will not get vaccinated even if offered the option), it is our behavior that will ultimately determine Covid-19’s toll.

Beyond the failure of our government to provide effective leadership, there has been a lack of consistent communication from non-partisan experts, whose messages have been marginalized and credibility undermined by those in our current administration. President Trump has weaponized scientific uncertainty along with exploiting a distrust of science that has long preceded his tenure in office.

While distrust is now more common in those on the political right, for decades conservatives viewed science favorably, seeing the benefits of science aiding our economy. However, when scientists began to look at the detrimental effects on the environment of fossil fuels and exploitation of resources to fuel further growth, the resultant regulations alienated people committed to free-market principles. Trust in science paradoxically declined most among the most educated conservatives, who were able to find the limitations in the data and could exploit the inevitable uncertainties. The inevitable and necessary self-corrections that are the hallmark of scientific process reinforce the skepticism of all those who inherently distrust experts.

In the book “The Death of Expertise”, the author Tom Nichols describes anti-intellectualism, particularly in the USA, as rejecting science has become a proxy for personal empowerment and autonomy. “Masks immediately became part of a partisan controversy whether to believe in science and trust experts” lamented Nichols, “in the growing narcissistic tenor of a society whose battle cry is ‘You are not the boss of me!’” He goes on to say, “Some people would rather die than wear a mask. Once beliefs become fused to your sense of personal identity, they become very difficult to shake.”

As people have been segmented by the media in being offered “news” that reflects and enforces their points of view, and social media platforms magnify and thrive in the divisions in our society, reasoned debate becomes near impossible. Our current political divides are characterized not only by disagreements with the opposing party’s views, but also by frank contempt for the people espousing those views.

As the human instinct is to be tribalistic, once we pick a team, it’s very hard to switch. The mask has become like the jersey of our favorite team; in this case, the uniform of the left. The mixed messages from experts at the beginning of our epidemic certainly haven’t helped the confusion of the public. Why could people go to the store, but not to schools and churches? Why couldn’t kids play sports if people could go to rallies? Lot of people don’t know anyone personally who had died of Covid, but know countless whose livelihoods have been destroyed.

In a sense, the pandemic has likely alienated many Americans who already feel that the “experts” don’t understand their lives. Watching friends and colleagues fighting on the front lines of the epidemic, risking their own lives as well as their families, it’s difficult to not feel anger and frustration with those who deny the need for public health measures to keep us all safe. It wasn’t until a CNN reporter, Fareed Zakaria, offered the other side’s perspective that it became easier to at least grasp the thinking of those who question and deny the message we are trying to send.

“Imagine you are an American who works with his hands – a truck driver, a construction worker – and you just lost your job because of the lockdowns. What is it like to be one of those 36 million jobless Americans and turn on your TV, only to hear the medical experts, the journalists explain that we must keep our economy closed?”  Zakaria points out that these experts not only have jobs, but are in even greater demand. Emphasizing how worthless and scared the newly jobless might feel, he asks, “Is it hard to understand why people like this might be skeptical of the experts?”

Since we cannot have economic recovery until the virus is contained, it’s irrational to defy the public health advice, but belief is not rational. To those who distrust science, (something for which the media must also take a share of the blame) the perception that experts view them as idiots only reinforces their alienation when their behavior is pointed out to be moronic. There is a futility in trying to shame people into changing their behavior.

Clearly, there is a need to listen to one another, and to communicate more effectively than we have been doing. It’s easy to be condescending or authoritarian when presenting a message you are convinced is a 100% right. This method has clearly failed. We have to find a better way to make our points. It may have to start with recognition that we are not speaking to the devil, but to another human being who is likely as scared as we are. We have to find a bridge to reach each other. Our lives depend on it.

Posted in America, Covid-19, Death and Dying, Health and wellness, Medicine, News and politics, Politics, Science, Thoughts & Musings | Tagged | 4 Comments


It’s another Monday, following an eventful week. That means it’s Poetry Monday. The title of today’s poem, though not dealing with the issues facing us today, embodies the wish that many of us have for our country. Be well, be safe.



the discovery as one foot follows the other:

there is no alone.

I am always with myself.

a realization as liberating as dreaming,

lesson lost from childhood,

hidden these years in company and distraction.

my mind is a snail shell.

thoughts run the inward spiral

a gravitational path

a closing orbit

faster toward the center

spinning to comprehension.


I and I are we.

usually, we are quiet.

we observe as one.

we note how the sunflowers stare across their field,

craning necks, searching horizon for what has gone

but might return.

in silence we hear the clap of confident sandals

stride across a Roman living room,

the sure step of a man who knows empire will endure.

we finger a blue ribbon of sky

pinched over an alley

and crosshatched with a cotton contrail


we speak and listen

like a juggler throws and catches.

we do not discuss the weather or sports.

p. ferenczi

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Death by Stupidity

The title of this piece was designed for the piece that follows, though it may just as well be applicable to our present day circumstances. Somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to write something appropriate about our recent election or how it portends for the future of our country. Instead, I looked back in my archives for something that may bring a smile to your faces, something we all can use. With that preamble, here it is:


In case you need further proof that the human race is doomed through

stupidity, here is some actual label instructions on consumer goods.

On Sears’s hairdryer:  “Do not use while sleeping.”

(Gee, that’s the only time I have to work on my hair.)

On a bag of Fritos:   “You could be a winner!  No purchase necessary. Details inside.” (The shoplifter special.)

On a bar of Dial soap:  “Directions: Use like regular soap.” (And that would be how…?)

On some Stouffer’s frozen dinners: “Serving suggestion: Defrost.” (But it’s *just* a suggestion.)

On Sara Lee’s Tiramisu dessert (printed on bottom of box):  “Do not turn upside down.”

(Too late!)

On Marks & Spencer Bread Pudding:  “Product will be hot after heating.” (As night follows the day…)

On packaging for a Black and Decker iron: “Do not iron clothes on body.”

(But wouldn’t this save some time?)

On Tylenol’s Children’s Cough Medicine:  “Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication.” (We could do a lot to reduce the rate of construction accidents if we could just get those 5-year-olds with head colds off those forklifts.)

On Nytol Sleep Aid:  “Warning: May cause drowsiness.” (One would hope.)

On most brands of Christmas lights:  “For indoor or outdoor use only.” (As opposed to what?)

On a Japanese food processor:  “Not to be used for the other use.” (I gotta admit, I’m curious.)

On Planter’s peanuts:  “Warning: contains nuts.” (Talk about a news flash.)

On an American Airlines’ packet of nuts: “Instructions: Open packet, eat nuts.”  (Step 3: Fly Delta.)

On a child’s superman costume:  “Wearing of this garment does not enable you to fly.”

(I don’t blame the company. I blame parents for this one.)

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Welcome to Poetry Monday, and a small dose of normalcy before enduring the results of the elections tomorrow. Hopefully, you will have all exercised your plebiscite.


We like our numbers and measurements,

quantification against chaos,

hope in description as prediction,

so we count our years together

and smile at the compounding interest.

But that evolving whole may be

less than the sum of the parts that endure unchanged,

the quiet barnacle savagery of bonds

that disdain the slip of seconds into years,

the interlocking selves that remain constant,

constantly surprised by what changes

with the accumulation of time

while retaining their elemental stainless shine,

their secret mass and velocity counted in nameless units

meaning the difference 

between collision, near miss,

and a stable binary orbit.

p. ferenczi

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Mind and Body

I am not a trained philosopher, though I took a number of courses in philosophy while I was at the university, and have an interest in how our ideas impact our world and our lives. For those of you who have a bend for this type of thinking, you probably have a better grasp than I do of the debate concerning thought and consciousness in the human mind, often referred to as the mind-body problem. Descartes tried to solve this problem with his dualistic views regarding mind and body, which holds that the mind is non-physical, and therefore, a non-spatial substance.   He equated the mind with consciousness and self-awareness, separate from the brain, which is the source of intelligence.  Many since have challenged this dualistic viewpoint, and the recent emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) has added more fuel to the existing controversies. As a rank amateur in this arena, I hold little sway as to who has the best insight into the true nature of the conscious mind. I am, however, attuned to and in harmony with the words of Maria Popova, a writer of some insight, who recently said, “scientists have begun uncovering what poets have always known — that spirit is woven of sinew and mind of marrow. The body is the place, the only place, where we live — it is where we experience time, it is where we heal from emotional trauma, it is the seat of consciousness, without which there is nothing. And yet we spend our lives turning away from this elemental fact — with distraction, with addiction, with the trance of busyness — until suddenly something beyond our control — a diagnosis, a heartbreak, a pandemic — staggers us awake. We remember the body, this sole and solitary arena of being. The instant we remember to reverence it we also remember to mourn it, for we remember that this living miracle is a temporary miracle — a borrowed constellation of atoms bound to return to the stardust that made it.”

I will now swerve into a totally different lane, and speak from my perspective as a physician.  In practical terms, we have to care for, respect, and pay attention to this physical vessel which is the only home we shall ever possess, at least in our earthly lives. Being a doctor, I am most aware of the need to service this instrument properly, keeping it properly tuned, and not ignoring its warning messages of fatigue, pain and psychic distress; to do so invites significant dysfunction and potential total breakdown. Proper diet, exercise, periods of rest is just as important a prescription for your health as are blood pressure medicines and drugs to lower your cholesterol. In this pandemic crisis, it serves well to remember to take those precautions, such as wearing masks, avoiding unnecessary travel, and maintaining social distancing, which can help keep us healthy at least until an effective vaccine becomes available. I have too many friends and colleagues who have contracted Covid-19 and are now suffering significant disability, while a few have sacrificed their lives. Be well.

Posted in America, Covid-19, Health and wellness, Medicine, Mental Health, News and politics, Religion, Science, Thoughts & Musings | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A Defeat

It’s Poetry Monday, and here is another selection from Maps, the poetry collection about travel and the common themes that introspection on the road can give to all of us.

a defeat

pulling into a new city,

cloud-muted dawn

thin as patience

after sleepless train night.

collapsed into a single blurred

blunt old pocket knife,

brain-fuzzed eye-skuzzed,

blind to perspective.

the albatross pack,

drizzle working into clothes,

map-defying tangle of streets,

voices masked in foreign tongues.

and it’s on me

like an old flame

once wisely extinguished

dropping by the apartment

on a solitary drunken night:

a sweet welling hopelessness

(a twinge of disgust)

but it comes on, comes on,

and I yield to it.

p. ferenczi

Posted in America, Books and Literature, Loneliness, Poetry, Thoughts & Musings, Travel | 1 Comment

To Vote Or Not To Vote


I wrote this piece several elections ago, but it seems even more pertinent now than it was then. I have to confess, I originally wrote it mainly because I knew my son would read it. Ever since he’s attained the age granting him the franchise to vote, he has, to my knowledge, never exercised this right. Nor is he alone. The United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts amongst the democratic societies of this planet. To many of us, this is no startling revelation.

You could easily make the case that our level of voting apathy, combined with the ignorance, shortsightedness and provincialism of many of those who vote, are the reasons we can find so many of our politicians embodying the same traits. How else to explain former governor Kneip of South Dakota, when he was appointed as ambassador to Singapore declaring he had never heard of Gandhi. William Scott, ex-senator from Virginia, was called the dumbest senator in Congress by a magazine with limited circulation. He called a press conference to deny the charge. Or my favorite, ex-senator Roman Hruska’s comment that “there are a lot of mediocre people, and they are entitled to a little representation.” I don’t know any political reporter who would defend the position that today’s bunch in Washington is any more impressive.

In the postmortem of each election, the talking heads on the tube bemoan the apathy of the voters. Voting is good; apathy is bad. Some, however, would question this analysis. They make the argument that democracy in our country doesn’t work because too many of our voters are ignorant or too ill informed on the issues. Politicians are able to blurt sound bites like “military preparedness” or “Communism” or “soft-on-crime” and legions of voters follow like lemmings over the edge. When people don’t even know enough to follow their own self-interest, the system can’t work in the way it was designed to function.

The solution in a Utopian world would have all voters pass some type of uniform test, discriminating against no one, except those who had no knowledge whatsoever of any of the issues being contested. Some of us, imbued with civic class idealism, would argue that this is heresy, that suffrage is an inalienable right, that such a policy would go against what the Founding Fathers had intended.

Actually, the framers of the Constitution precisely intended a meritocracy, which is why they limited the franchise to those who owned land. In 1789, land ownership went hand in hand with a knowledge of public affairs. Matters went awry with the introduction of extended suffrage. That’s what had Mark Twain say of the nation’s politicians, “They are all crooks – and why? Because of universal suffrage. How, I ask you, can you have a country when every idiot male of twenty-one or more can vote?”

Realities dictate that there will not soon be any fundamental changes in our country’s political system. This leaves many of us utterly frustrated, our choices seemingly limited to supporting candidates for whom we have no respect or supporting no one at all. For those of us who have not been able to summon any enthusiasm for any political candidate since JFK, and who have by the legions opted out of the system altogether, the sad truth is that the results of the current State of the Union can be laid at our feet. Many now concede that politics in our country is largely a matter of cutting losses. It probably is as naïve at this point in time to expect honesty from our politicians as it is to expect originality of thought. Any positive change that will occur in our system will happen only by small increments.

The likelihood that changes for the better will only come slowly, and with great effort may well be the crux of our problem. For many of us in the post-war generation, given so much by our parents that we came to expect instant gratification as our birthright, perseverance remains a faintly amusing concept, like steadfastness or staunchness – words that seem to come from a bygone era.

That’s why I have so much admiration and respect for all those who have continued to work for those few candidates whose open expression of ideas and clear-cut stands on issues doomed their campaigns to fail before the onslaught of slick voter manipulation by cookie cutter manufactured spokesman of well funded issue groups. There still are Quixotic groups of people, going door to door, calling voters, attempting to explain issues, and supporting those who work in service of the odd belief that a politician should represent the interests and belief of the both the constituents, as well as the good of the country. I know of one such individual, still soldiering on, doing his part to make a change for the better in a district where the likelihood of his success appears to be insanely poor. I asked him, “Don’t you get discouraged? How do you keep doing this after all your disappointments?” He smiled, “I keep doing this because of all our old slogans, only one still makes sense today – ‘If your not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.’”

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